About marshallbutcharmstrong

I love to grow plants!

Breakthrough Story


I made spaghetti today. When I finished, it looked like a bomb had exploded on the stove. Sauce sprayed in a blood splatter pattern, noodles and bits of hamburger like scenes from a horror movie. Unfortunately, it often looks like this when I cook. I think of children in countries where they don’t have enough to eat and feel guilty writing about my food exploits. But I do it anyway. We do a lot of things we shouldn’t, and justify them in various ways to feel better about ourselves. Just another day in the life.

What if being human is a mental illness? What if all of us so called “normal” people who go to our jobs, raise families, and cook our dinners are mentally ill? Maybe we were shipped here from some distant planet, some place where they decided to rid their society of their less than desirable people. Like the British did when they sent boat loads of people to Australia. Maybe we are the descendants of the worst of an alien society that now enjoys life without people who routinely blow up their stoves at mealtime. Are they watching us, do you suppose? Are they wondering how long it will be before they have to intervene to keep their refuse from infecting the universe?

I scanned the radio dial this morning. I heard conservatives screaming about liberals. I heard Nirvana songs. Lots of talk about the environment and children in cages. I heard Hip-Hop music. I turned the radio off and went out and stood in the rain. But the radio still played. Lots of sounds and voices and screams. And music. Country and Rock and Rap. And more voices telling me what I didn’t want to hear. I longed for the sweet sounds of water lapping at a shore and the calls of loons across the lake. Life is like a radio that never shuts off. And half the time there’s too much static to discern what I’m hearing.

So I cleaned up the stove, and ate my spaghetti. I used fresh Basil from my little herb garden. Turned out pretty good. As all these words started swirling around in my mind I knew I was on the edge of a breakthrough book or at least a prize winning article. I sat down at the keyboard, electricity tingling my fingertips. I felt like Edward R. Murrow about to break an earth shattering story and then what came out was this. A story about exploding my stove and the guilt of writing about eating. Who are we, anyway?

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Heat


It is the end of May. At this time of year in my part of the world, outside air temperatures should be in the low to mid seventies Fahrenheit. For the last several days we have been in the low to mid nineties. It is hot. Attributable to climate change, no doubt, but that doesn’t help how it feels. We have actually been blessed with low humidity during this period which has made it more bearable, but still. A couple days ago I turned on the air conditioning because I was going to be gone for four to five hours and my dog, Sophie, who is half Malamute, half Husky, suffers from the heat. I set it for seventy four degrees and came back several hours later to find it was eighty degrees in the house. The air didn’t work. With that comes the possibility of spending a lot of money getting the unit fixed or replaced. Although, if the temperature goes back to normal, I can get by without it.

At the end of April I bought a small greenhouse. I have it set up in my back yard and have been growing herbs and tomato’s so far. I’ve actually started a new blog to document my adventures called, conveniently enough, Greenhouse Adventure. You can find it by typing “Greenhouse Adventure.com” into the search bar on your computer. It’s only just begun so don’t expect a lot just yet.

As some of you may know, my wife died of cancer last July. It’s been a rough period for me but I seem to be coming out of it slowly. I want to do more writing, but I just haven’t felt up to it for quite some time. I think now I’m turning a corner, as it’s said, And you may be able to expect to hear from me more often. I hope so. Thanks for the help and support I’ve received during this time. It means a lot. See you soon!

She


And now I sit alone,
with reminders of her everywhere;
rocks and pictures and paintings.

And now I sit alone,
not lonely, but sad.
Sad at the loss of her,

who shared my life
and sang with me in the car.

She who shared my bed,
and my most intimate moments,
is gone now, forever.

She, who’s laugh made me laugh,
who’s tears made me cry,
is gone now, forever.
I don’t sing in the car, anymore.

The First Time

There has never been anything
quite like a boy’s first slow dance
with a girl. The feeling of her breasts,
pressed against your chest.
The warmth of her body, held close.
Her breath, tickling the hairs on your neck.
And the lovely smell of her freshly washed hair
filling your teenaged senses
with indescribable feelings.
The song you danced to didn’t matter,
and it was over way too soon.
And the only thing you could
think at that moment was that
you wanted to do that again.
And again, and again.
No, there has never been a feeling
quite like that.
And there never will.

Nine Pelicans

Standing along the river bank,
dignified in their ungainly grace,
nine pelicans stand or sit and watch
like some prehistoric judges
as the river parades slowly past.

A little further along the bank
geese, flapping, fluttering, and
stomping in the mud, voice
their discontent, loudly, as if
the river is wholly unacceptable
in its proceeding and stance.

A deer, on the opposite bank,
lifts its head and observes
both groups, with measured
indifference, as it chews something
it found among the weeds.

One pelican raises its orange
bill in the direction of the deer
and then away, as if to say he’s
bored and determines this river
to be insufficient for his needs.

But he cannot align himself with the
unruly, peasant-like geese, he
being, after all, a pelican of
some standing, among his group.

Distraction

The cat, in the field, concentrating ever so diligently on the small mouse hiding under leaves and dry grass, is annoyed by my footsteps in gravel on the side of the road. As I stop to watch this Scottish version of the common house pet, her ears pitched forward toward the mouse, I notice that she doesn’t look Scottish at all. Not that I would know what a Scottish cat is supposed to look like, but when you’re in Scotland well, everything is Scottish. Her right ear, the one closest to me, suddenly pivots toward me as I take a step and the sparse gravel beneath my foot crunches loudly in the still, evening air. I stand still, and just as suddenly, the ear twitches again and returns to it’s former attentive position. Her body tenses, her head lowers and, I take another step. This time her head turns, she focuses on my face and I am the recipient of an evil glare that seems to say, “I know where your hotel is. Later I will find you there, and I will kill you in your sleep.”

Playing Guitar

Around September last year, I decided to learn to play Bass guitar. I’ve been a drummer most of my life and so I understand the workings and structure of music. It helps to know this when learning an instrument. So I bought an electric bass and amplifier.

I chose the Fender Mustang Bass because it is a short scale bass, meaning, the length between the nut (the point where the strings meet the head of the guitar) and the bridge is only 30″. A full size bass has a 34″ length. At 61 years old I’m not as flexible as I once was and not stretching another 4 inches to reach the first fret makes it easier to play. The Mustang is also lighter in weight so not as fatiguing to hold for long periods. Besides that, it is just plain sexy. I mean, look at it. A slim waist, beautiful curves. Who wouldn’t want to hug that thing?

I can strum a few chords on guitar but I chose the bass because it is a rhythm instrument, like drums. Most people don’t realize this but the bass guitar is as important if not more important to the rhythm of the music. It sets the groove, filling in the bottom end of any piece of music. Just try listening to a favorite song with the bass turned all the way down and you’ll see what I mean. It needs to be there.

I have a lot of musician friends. So I have been getting together with some of them to help me learn to play. So far, it’s been a fun adventure. Musicians are always ready to give advice and help someone be a better player. One trait that most musicians have is to believe that it’s not about them, it’s about the music. Most of them are very selfless when it comes to teaching. So I’ve learned a lot in a short amount of time. (It helps to be retired.)

I’ve discovered that I have guitar fever, just like many other musicians I know. One guitar is not enough. A few months ago I picked up a Taylor Acoustic Mini Bass.

This is also a short scale bass and a lot of fun to play. Yesterday, I had to take it in to the shop for a little work and I discovered a full scale Fender acoustic bass for a really good price.

This being a full scale bass is as I said, 4 inches longer than the Mustang. However, I’ve noticed that since I started playing my flexibility has improved to the point where I can play this guitar without too much trouble.

So I’m learning to play bass. I don’t think you’re too old to learn something new and it keeps you from shriveling up and dying. Besides, I love music and being able to make music is a real treat. I’m still playing drums as well and will keep doing it all as long as possible. As they used to say in the Sixties, Keep On Trucking!

The Fiddle Player And The Dancer

This poem was originally written two years ago. I have re-written it but I’m not sure if I like it this way or not.

As he packed up to leave, an old women approached.
“Can you play that thing?” she asked,
motioning toward the fiddle.
“I can, but I can’t make any money here,”
he said, showing her the empty cup.
“Put that fiddle under your chin, boy.
Play somethin’ gypsy, somethin’ that moves.
And as he played, she began to dance.
Bells appeared on her fingers
tinkling in the breeze.
Swaying and swirling to his rhythm
her ragged clothes suddenly seemed new.
Sequins and colors flashed brilliant in the sun.
The people came, and fell in love with her
that day. She twirled, and the sound flowed,
entwining together to become one thing.
Finally the music faltered, as if nothing
could compete with her beauty.
As she twirled her last,
he offered her the money from the cup, now full.
“You keep it boy,” she said with a smile.
“I only wanted to dance.”

The Sword Of Freedom

The Window

bloody sword
As hands are brushed together, dead bodies fall like dust
and a girl in a dress called freedom whirls and twirls
but makes no sound but the sound of a mothers cry.

With the constitution in one hand and a bible in the other,
flames suddenly leap and turn them to ash and
they blow away on the wind called justice.

Crowds leave the synagogue, cathedral and mosque and file
into the furnace while factories make more furnaces
and governments send more children to burn.

The minds eye is blind and feeling it’s way to find
emptiness and sorrow where love once lived.
Time turns backward to other wars with the same stench.

Liberty’s crack grows wider and the clapper has
disappeared to be replaced by the
sword of freedom, and a mother cries again.

And do we watch with hands folded in laps and on
our knees pray to…

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Blue Moon

After sending her 2.3 children to play
with the neighbors down the street, the
housewife, in her new, crisp, pink pastel
dress, serves her husband ice tea on a
sunny, suburban, Sunday afternoon.

When yellow foam mixed with blood
ejects from his mouth, wetting his
gray trousers, and he falls from his
lawn chair in agony gasping for air,
she kneels beside him, grass staining
her new dress and asks him if his tea
is as spicy as his new secretary.

As her husband dies on the freshly mown
lawn, she calls her mother, to pick
up the children and then calls the police.
The children of course, will not
understand, for they are to young
to know that the blue moon, is not blue.

My Irish and Scottish Heritage

Saint Patrick’s day is coming once again, on Saturday, March 17th. In honor of himself, I thought I would talk about my Irish heritage. I’ve been spending a lot of time researching my family genealogy, taking DNA tests and planning trips to Scotland and Ireland. It’s been great fun discovering my ancient ancestors. Armstrong is a Scottish name but I’m having trouble tracing them back to Scotland. The Armstrong’s, as with many Scottish families, moved around between Scotland, England and Ireland. I’ve hit a brick wall with that side of my family. Not so on my mother’s side. I have traced a family line back 17 generations. Toirdhealbhagh Turlough Don Mac Mathghamhna aka Turlough Bishop Killoe-O’Brien -O’Brien King of Thomond of Mumhan, born in 1450, Bally, Clare, Ireland was my 17th great grandfather. He was the King of Munster.

Don’t ask me to pronounce his name! His son, Murrough Carrach O’Brien, First Earl of Thomond, was the first Baron of Inchiquin. Inchiquin, is a Barony (a historical subdivision of a county) in County Clare. Ireland. My Grandmother on my mom’s side was a Brown. Her grandmother was a Dailey. Several generations back from her, the family married into the Byrne name and they in turn married into the O’Brien’s. The O’Briens trace their family history back to Brian Boru, King of Munster who died at the Battle of Clontarf in 1014. His brother, Mathghamhna is one of the names of my 17th great grandfather listed above, although more than 400 years separate them, they are probably related. Some people find this dry and boring, but when it’s your own family, it’s fascinating.

Saint Patrick was captured from Roman Britain by Irish pirates during the early 400’s and after being held as a captive slave for six years he escaped and returned home. Some years later he returned to Ireland and began to convert the Irish to Christianity. Saint Patrick’s day has been celebrated as an Irish Catholic holiday for a long time but it was only during the 1970’s that American style celebrations took place in Ireland. Something that really grinds my gears is when people write, St. “Patty’s” day. It’s not “patty”, It’s “paddy.” Patrick is the English version of the Irish name Padraig or Padraic, pronounced, PAWD-rig. Patrick, in his own writings used the name, “Patricius” so I suppose those who say St. “Patty’s” day can be forgiven. But not by much.

I’m going to Scotland in a couple weeks for a Reiver festival. The Armstrong’s were a Scottish boarder clan centered in the Liddesdale and Eskdale area of the Scottish/English boarder. They were called “reivers” because they were a warlike clan, cheating, stealing, pillaging, and murdering there way through life. Hey, times were tough. You did what you had to do.

The Motto, Invictus Maneo means, “I remain Unvanquished.” Sounds badass, doesn’t it? I highly recommend doing your genealogy. And also taking a DNA test. The results can be fascinating. I’ve found some nationalities I didn’t know I had. From doing my family genealogy I knew I had Scottish and Irish as well as French and German but I found some Dutch in there as well as the possibility of Flemish. And if you like, you can find others who share your DNA that you are related to but didn’t know it! DNA tests are a little expensive but it’s worth it to know where your people came from.

The Process Of Writing

I probably should have titled this, “My” process of writing because I’m sure that for as many writers as there are in the world, there are as many processes. My process is unique to me although many may be similar. Today, I am inspired to write. That’s how it begins. As with a musician, (something I also claim to be,) some days you are inspired to pick up that guitar and play. Or flute, or drums, or whatever. You just feel like now is the time. What you play depends on the mood you’re in. That’s how it works with writing for me. I am inspired to write, but what shall I write? What kind of mood am I in? Happy or sad, frustrated, angry, joyful, what? Some days, I am so inspired that I sit down at the keyboard and it just flows out like a raging river. The words come fast and furious, filling the screen of my computer. Some days it’s so good I hardly have to do any editing at all.

Not today. Today, I am inspired to write. But what, you ask? Good question, that. I don’t have a clue. Today is one of those days when the words aren’t flowing. They have to be dragged out kicking and screaming their reluctance like a newborn being forcefully shoved into a cold, bright world. So here I sit at the keyboard, ready and willing to fill the page with brilliance and, what? Nothing. (I just spent the last five minutes staring at the word “nothing” on the screen.) Where is my mojo? My muse, if you will? Mojo and Muse are off somewhere sharing a drink and a cigar and laughing hysterically at how they left me behind.

“Look at him,” Mojo says. “Trying to write something without us!” They clink their glasses together and toast my utter inability to come up with anything even remotely interesting to say. They puff their cigars in the sunshine, dig their toes in the sand of some South Seas island, as happy as if they were normal. And I sit here in the midst of a Minnesota Winter trying to force out words, trying to force those word into something you might want to read. Ugh! I am disgusted. (I just spent another five minutes staring at the word “disgusted.”)

So that’s it then, they left me. Fine! I don’t need them! I’ll forge ahead on my own. Let them bask in the sunshine of their imagined brilliance. Who are these two, anyway, Mojo and Muse? A couple of over rated hacks, that’s who. Okay, okay, so now what? So now I write! I write words. And I form sentences with those words. And the sentences make sense. And they are interesting to read. Yeah, that’s it! I’m good. I’m doing this on my own! And, and, hey look! I actually wrote something.

Northfield, Minnesota

From 1998 until 2017 my wife Ann and I lived in the Faribault, Minnesota area, the last six years of which were spent in an old farm house on a lake surrounded by corn fields. In November 2016, Ann got sick and in December we found out she had Endometrial Metastatic Cancer. She died in July, 2017 after a heroic battle. To me she is an example of a very strong and brave woman. Born and raised on a farm near Kilkenny, Minnesota, she had red hair, blue eyes, and she was Irish and German. There were times when she felt hopeless fighting cancer, but for the most part she was brave throughout. She didn’t let it get in the way of family and friends. I think about her every day.

In May of 2017 we bought my mom’s house in Northfield, Minnesota. Only about 18 miles from our lake house, Northfield is a different world. This is the house I grew up in. Built in 1940, my folks bought the house on the G.I. Bill, or Servicemen’s Readjustment Act, in 1956, just two weeks before I was born. It has been added on to and remodeled several times over the years, most of the work being done by my dad. We bought the house in May, Ann went into the hospital in June and never came home. We only had a month to enjoy the house together before she became to0 sick to be home.

The months since Ann died have been kind of foggy but I think I’m finally starting to come out of it. In December I applied for a position on the Northfield Human Rights Commission. The mayor appointed me to the commission but after one meeting I realized that it was too much, too soon. So with the mayors blessing I turned down the appointment and am now concentrating on living one day at a time. It seems to be working. I spend quite a bit of time alone and it’s said that when you’re grieving that’s not a good thing. But for me, it’s alright. I get along with myself just fine. As a kid I was just as happy playing by myself as I was with friends. I spend time with my children and grand children. It’s good for us all to be together, to do things as a family. So that’s the back story. You are now caught up with me.

In 1956 the population of Northfield was about 8000. Today its over 20,000 so there has been steady growth over the years. The town is only about 30 or so miles from the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul. There are two world class colleges in Northfield. St. Olaf and Carleton. Each September Northfield celebrates the Defeat of Jesse James days. On September 7th, 1876, Jesse James and his gang were prevented from robbing the bank in Northfield, effectively ending their career as outlaws. It’s a huge celebration that attracts thousand to the town. (I hope this isn’t sounding like a tourism site!) Even though the population is over 20,000, Northfield is still a rural community. The entire city is surrounded by farms and fields. The downtown area has been maintained with 1800’s building fronts whenever possible. There are lots of unique shops and every Saturday there is a Riverwalk arts fair and farmers market downtown. Northfield is a community where people get out and do things. I love it here.

So now I’m spending time learning the bass guitar. I’ve been a drummer all my life and for the last twenty years have concentrated on hand percussion. But I’ve recently bought an electronic drum kit so I’m getting my chops back with that. For those of you who’ve read my blog over the years, I still have my insane dog, Sophie. Sophie is half Malamute, half Husky. And as I said, she’s insane. She’s six years old and still as frisky as a puppy. One hundred and ten pounds of frisky! We take a walk everyday along the beautiful pathways of Riverside park in Northfield. There is a lot of noise compared to living on a lake in the country but we’re getting used to it. The thing I miss most about living in the country is the quiet and the stars in the sky. It is such a mystical experience to stand outside at night with the Milky Way shining brightly in the sky and not hear a single sound. Just thinking about that gives me shivers. I want to give a big thanks to my long time readers. Thanks for sticking with me, And maybe I’ll gain some new readers along the way. More to come!

A Tip O’ The Hat

Madman on the street, recounting
His days with the queen.
“She was just a wee lass ye know.
Won’t ye give us a kiss on the cheek?”

“The dogs, they howl so mournfully
In the garden, for they have
but a scrap to eat.”

Chewing at his fingernail, he bends
His head to the cobblestones.
Music wafts from the pub,
The tune of his life.

“Oh, I do remember the time
She said, ‘Barnaby,’ ‘Barnaby
She said, won’t ye come in here
And talk wit me? Won’t ye now?’”

“An’ I said, Aye, I will. An’ she
gave me sweets ta eat,
an’ life was good.
She gave me sweets.”

And he went about his way,
a tip of the hat to some and
to others he paid no mind.